Updated: Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:13:56 GMT | By pa.press.net

ATHLETICS

Arguably the most high profile and popular of all the Olympic sports, the athletics programme promises to create many of the standout moments of London 2012.


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Starting blocks for the athletics sprint races. (© Press Association)

Starting blocks for the athletics sprint races.

Athletics

Arguably the most high profile and popular of all the Olympic sports, the athletics programme promises to create many of the standout moments of London 2012.

The sport has been responsible for some of the most iconic achievements in Olympic history, and all eyes will be on the Olympic Stadium when the stars of track and field are in action.

The sport has a significant tradition within the setting of the Games. Running events of various lengths were first held as part of the ancient Olympics, with the javelin, discus and long jump, while not contested individually, also part of an early pentathlon in Greece.

Since the first Games of the modern era, at Athens 1896, close to 20,000 athletes have competed in athletics at the Olympics, helping the sport to become the cornerstone of the Games.

The 100 metres sprint is still considered to be the blue-riband showpiece of the entire Olympiad - despite only lasting around 10 seconds - but there is also plenty of other action that generates huge interest across the 10 days of the track and field programme.

In total, 47 gold medals are up for grabs, with 24 events for men and 23 for women. There is no 50km race walk for women, who also compete in the heptathlon rather than the decathlon, but otherwise the men's and women's events are the same.

The structure and skills required for each differs greatly, however, with competitors in the sprint events (100m, 200m and 400m) having to negotiate a number of heats, while the marathon and other long-distance running races are held as one-offs.

In the throwing events (discus, shot put, javelin and hammer) and the jumping events (long jump, high jump, triple jump and pole vault), athletes must come through a qualification round before going for glory in a final, where the best attempt is counted.

The combined events (decathlon for men and heptathlon for women) see athletes accrue points over a number of different disciplines, with the athlete who scores the most points overall taking gold.

Some of the last athletics events to be staged inside the Olympic Stadium are the relay races, which always make for an exciting finale.

The United States - considered to be the dominant force in the relays - have won over 700 athletics medals since 1896, while no other nation has yet reached 200.

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